Marianne Moore

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Marianne Moore photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1948
Marianne Moore photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887 - February 5, 1972) was a Modernist American poet and writer.



Marianne Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri, outside of St. Louis, daughter of construction engineer and inventor, John Milton Moore, and his wife, Mary Warner. She grew up in the household of her grandfather, a Presbyterian pastor, her father having been committed to a mental hospital before her birth. In 1905, Moore entered Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and graduated four years later. She taught courses at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School until 1915, when Moore began to professionally publish poetry.

Poetic Career

In part because of her extensive European travels before the First World War, Moore came to the attention of, poets as diverse as Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, H.D., T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. From 1925 until 1929, Moore served as editor of the literary and cultural journal The Dial. This continued her role, similar to that of Pound, as a patron of poetry, encouraging promising young poets, including Elizabeth Bishop and Allen Ginsberg, and publishing, as well as refining poetic technique, early work.

In 1933, Moore was awarded the Helen Haire Levinson Prize from Poetry. Her Collected Poems of 1951 is perhaps her most rewarded work; it earned the poet the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bollingen Prize. Moore became a minor celebrity, in New York literary circles, serving as unofficial hostess for the Mayor. She attended boxing matches, baseball games and other public events, dressed in what became her signature garb, a tricorn hat and a black cape. She particularly liked athletics and athletes, and was a great admirer of Muhammad Ali, to whose spoken-word album, I Am the Greatest!, she wrote liner notes. Moore continued to publish poems in various journals, including The Nation, The New Republic, and Partisan Review, as well as publishing various books and collections of her poetry and criticism. Moore corresponded for a time with W.H. Auden and Ezra Pound during the latter's incarceration. In 1955, the Ford Motor Company asked Moore to help them name a new model then in development. Moore submitted a list of suggestions that included "The Intelligent Whale," "The Utopian Turtletop," "The Pastelogram," and "The Mongoose Civique." The Company decided not to use any of Moore’s suggestions and instead named the car the Edsel. The model, having lost Ford $250 million, was discontinued in 1959. Not long after throwing the first pitch for the 1968 season in Yankee Stadium, Moore suffered a stroke. She suffered a series of strokes thereafter, and died, unmarried, in 1972. Moore's living room has been preserved in its original layout in the collections of the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Her entire library, knicknacks (including a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle), all of her correspondence, photographs, and poetry drafts are available for public viewing.

Her most famous poem is perhaps the one entitled, appropriately, "Poetry," in which she hopes for poets who can produce "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." It also expressed her idea that poetry is not written in meter, but in more natural forms. She composed hers in "syllabics". Robinson Jeffers likewise disavowed meter as a natural part of poetry. Moore went even further than Jeffers, wholly denying meter. These syllabic lines from "Poetry" illustrate her contempt for meter, and other poetic tools:

nor is it valid
to discriminate against "business documents and
school-books": all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry


  • Observations (1924)
  • Selected Poems (1935)
  • The Pangolin and Other Verse (1936)
  • What Are Years? (1941)
  • Nevertheless (1944)
  • Collected Poems (1951)
  • Fables of La Fontaine (1954; translation)
  • Predilections (1955)
  • Like a Bulwark (1956)
  • O to Be a Dragon (1959)
  • Idiosyncrasy and Technique (1959; prose)
  • The Arctic Fox (1964)
  • Tell Me, Tell Me (1966)
  • Poetry and Criticism (1965; prose)

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